updates: employee tracks me, the hugging vendor, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. My employee wants to know where I am at all times

The employee is gone.

In our next 1-on-1 catch-up, I addressed the request. It turned out it stemmed from a feeling of unfairness as to the level of autonomy I received in the role versus them. I explained that different levels of seniority will always come with different expectations, and came with a lot more responsibility.

The issues around KPIs and behaviours didn’t improve much at all, and when I was asked to downsize the team by one, I had a pretty easy decision on my hands.

Thank you to the commenters who weighed in and helped me realise that it wasn’t a reasonable request, and that I was approaching it too softly.

2. Our vendor has started hugging everyone (first update here)

While some of my bosses successfully hugged me after this, none of our vendors ever did again. Interestingly, in February or early March we had meetings with new reps from the same company who went for handshakes, and I was the only person in the room who avoided them. I said I had a bit of a cold (a lie) and that with the pandemic I thought it was better if we didn’t shake hands. Suddenly everyone in the room who had already shaken hands looked really uncomfortable.

Regardless, I feel a lot more confident saying no to these things now, despite a very personal approach from upper management here. (That’s pretty standard in our field.) Thanks again for answering my original letter so thoughtfully! I really appreciated it.

3. My employee apologizes all the time (#2 at the link)

All the input was really helpful. The next time my employee apologized for asking a questions, I took the opportunity to reassure her that I want her to ask questions and that she didn’t need to apologize. I also explained that while I appreciate an apology for a mistake, I can deal with mistakes if she learns from it.

I think part of the over-apologizing issue was she was really worried about making it through her 6-month probation. I had tried to reassure her that if we had major concerns she’d know (i.e. she’d be put on an improvement plan), but I think she worried because her lack of knowledge was the one area that was low on her 3-month check-in (even though we acknowledged the challenge of this year and that her progress was positive).

Also, while I think I am a positive boss, I’m not sure I’m always specific. Part of our jobs is providing information to customers on lots of different issues. So I was taking opportunities to show her things as projects or customer questions came up, but I think I may have been overwhelming her and blurring our responsibilities.

So, in summary, she has passed her probation which has helped her relax. I’ve tried to clarify responsibilities. While I want her to have some understanding of everything we cover (and she’s interested in learning), I’ve been more specific on what areas she is responsible to know and what areas she should pass on to me. I think that has helped her feel less overwhelmed and more confident. I’ve also tried to be specific on successes. She has excellent customer service and with all the extra chaos of this year she has had a great attitude and been super flexible with all the constant changes.

4. How to explain an incomplete master’s degree (#5 at the link)

I had written in thinking I would need to drop out of grad school as I was nearing what I thought was a hard deadline I couldn’t meet. I was taking care of my father who fell ill during my program and all the official forms said there was a hard five-year limit. I was also talking in terms of possibly not even wanting the degree anymore and not sure what to do.

After the letter was posted, I was having a meeting with my thesis supervisors and I was very stressed trying to figure out how on earth I was going to finish this mammoth project. My supervisor told me in regards to the deadline, “Those are just words. I’ve seen plenty of students take much longer and come back year after year to finish their degree.”

And he was completely right. I kept applying for extensions, and kept getting them. There were some further delays on the part of one of my supervisors but long story short, after eight years in the program I defended my thesis this past summer. I received my degree about a month ago. I’ve not started a job hunt yet. With everything going on I stayed at my retail job and am still living at home collecting some government aid on top of that kind of just trying to wait this out. So I don’t currently have the “I got a great job” update but I do have the “I did it” update.

{ 39 comments… read them below }

  1. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    #5: WAY TO GO! Tenacity and good sense like yours will help you so much in whatever job you find. *clink of champagne flutes*

      1. VanLH*

        Yes. In my dotage, with my wife’s constant support, I applied to, and was accepted in a master’s degree program. I needed an extension to complete my thesis and it was accepted.

        1. Zephy*

          I was just able to access it, but the TL;DR is that LW5 had started a master’s degree program that was derailed by a parent having a health crisis, and LW5 was writing in to ask how to show on their resume that they had completed part of a master’s degree, because they thought there was a hard deadline for finishing the program that they knew they couldn’t meet.

  2. Sara without an H*

    Congratulations, OP#2, for successfully drawing boundaries. The Blasted Virus is finally good for something!

    Alison has posted in the past about work-place hugging — I’ve been wondering for months how some of the more dedicated huggers have been coping.

    1. AD REPORT*

      I do have one very touchy-feely acquaintance who has posted a few times throughout all this about how the lack of hugs specifically was really hard (not inappropriate workplace hugging though). I am a bit of an introvert and I also live with my husband who is pretty much the only person I usually spend a lot of time with anyway, so staying home has not been very difficult for us and I’m trying to keep people like her in mind and how much harder this is for them when I see people making decisions different from what I would choose..

      1. alienor*

        I do feel for the huggers out there–not the aggressive ones, but those who love getting hugs from people who are also into it. I’m an infrequent hugger living with my adult child who is the Ultimate Anti-Hugger, so I haven’t hugged anyone for 9+ months now, and it hasn’t escaped me how hard that would be if I weren’t already accustomed to it.

    2. Dinoweeds*

      As a dedicated hugger I can tell you it’s been hard! Of course I never hug people in the workplace, but when I run into friends it’s been difficult. I’ve started politely asking if we can hug and then accept whatever answer they give me, which means I’ve been getting the occasional hug!

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, if you’re both masked and hold your breath as you pass inches from the other person’s face, the risk is pretty small. Not zero, but small enough that many people are willing to take the risk with their friends and loved ones.

    3. Anon Hugger*

      To be honest, it’s been awful. I do at least have humans that are in my household so I’m not completely cut off from physical touch, but this has been SO HARD. I do limited hugging at work (for things like retirements, super good news [wedding] or bad news [family death], etc., asking first, but I have a number of other co-workers who also appreciate hugs, at least in those circumstances), but have deliberately found places in my normal life to get lots of hugs (i.e., I tend to have physically affectionate friends, I have a church that does hugs [although you can opt out], and my personal favorite – my main hobby is ballroom dancing, since that is a sport where you know everyone else is okay being in physical contact or they wouldn’t be there, and we tend to be a huggy lot). In addition, my family is a bunch of huggers. All of those outlets have gone away. Outside of my household members, I’ve hugged exactly 1 person since late March or early April or whenever things shut down here. It’s kicking up my depression and anxiety in a major way. At least I’ve got a very physically affectionate spouse – I’m not sure what I’d do without my spouse right now! – but it’s been an awful year in that regard (as in so many other regards, I know!).

      1. Disco Janet*

        I did not consider myself a big hugger, but after 9 months of no hugs except from my wonderful husband (and thank goodness for him), I am in serious hug withdrawal. I am having fantasies of hugging everyone I know including family, friends, former and current coworkers, and all my favorite actors and celebrity crushes and their fictional counterparts.

        Yikes…I will stop typing now.

          1. allathian*

            I’m not very comfortable hugging strangers or even friends, but I enjoy hugs from my family. I’m very glad I have a spouse at home I can hug. I’m also happy that my 11-year-old son is still physically affectionate with me, a spontaneous hug from him can make my day. Of course, that’ll probably change when puberty hits, but I’m also enjoying each hug more than I otherwise might because I know it might well be the last one for a long time.

      2. Thankful for AAM*

        Uh oh! My spouse is finally interested in taking some dancing lessons. But I’m not a hugger! I hope we find a way to get lessons someday without too much hugging!

        1. TechWorker*

          Don’t worry it’s not mandatory. I’m also not really a hugger and managed 5 years of ballroom competitions and classes… people definitely can be a bit touchy feely in some dance social circles (salsa is worse ime) but like anything else it’s totally ok to have boundaries!

        2. Anon Hugger*

          Yeah, seconding what TechWorker said. It’s a good place to get hugs because people are more likely to be open to it, but I’ve also had people in my dance circles who weren’t into hugging and that was fine.

    4. ATM*

      Tbh I didn’t think I’d have a problem, as I’m not a big hugger/touchy-feely person, but I’m the only single person in a house otherwise made up of couples and I find myself jealous of their casual intimacy. It’s been rough.

    5. zolk*

      OP #2 here – the one remaining issue: almost every person on my team has talked about how “when things are back to normal” they’re going to hug every single person in our office. I’ve already said I’d like to continue to WFH most of the time, and will say no thanks on hugs. Hopefully it works!

    1. Tee Jay*

      +1. I agree. If it were me I would not have been able to stand it. Glad you don’t have to deal with that any more.

    2. Canadian Public Servant*

      Agreed! I was so happy to see your update, OP1. That kind of fixation on “fairness” without reflection on context is not a good sign for someone’s judgement.

  3. Ads*

    OP #4, interpreting from the original letter, you have a bachelor’s and master’s in computer science? Don’t hold off applying for jobs! Especially these days, everyone’s working remotely and interviewing remotely. If you don’t have other barriers to working right now, I’d really recommend starting to apply.

    1. BeenThere*

      Yes! Please come interview we are hiring like mad at my company. For Bay Area companies the earliest you’d be expected to relocate is mid next year. Which is to say this is the best time to take a risk at a company you have to move for without having to do the move first. If the team sucks it’s much easier to interview remotely while showing up for work everyday.

  4. So sorry!*

    No. 3, sometimes people who apologize a lot were bullied as children, and made to feel stupid. Please keep that in mind.

        1. Zona the Great*

          Goodness!! It was a very fair question by Keymaster. A response could be, “No but it is always good to have perspective of the fear that some people carry so you don’t paint them as pathetic or weak” or the like. That’s more of how we roll here.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes, thank you. Particularly since I ask that people *not* speculate on facts not in the letter unless you accompany it with an explanation of how it would change your advice, which I believe is what Keymaster was getting at.

          2. So sorry!*

            Zona the Great, that is an excellent response! Thank you.

            I will try not to speculate in the future. I felt bad for the apologizing employee and thought some leeway should be given them. I am a frequent apologizer myself, for the reasons I mention above.

  5. So sorry!*

    Looking back at the my original response, I think it does indeed make a suggestion that modifies the advice given by Alison and other posters. Please have patience with those of us whose confidence has been shaken by bullies and abusive parents.

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